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Archive for September, 2020

Before I dive into the title subject matter: I bought a Fotodiox EOS R to 4×5 Graflok adapter for shooting a series of stitched images with a 4×5 camera. I am testing it out now on my Linhof, so far it is really cool. It has several “modes” the one I will certainly get the most traction out of is the 6 shot panoramic that is a 2:1 ratio similar to a 6cm x 12cm roll film back. The unit allows you to take 6 horizontal images on two rows with precision alignment. This is done by moving the camera on a slider to preset locations. You end up with a final stitched image that covered a 44mm x 88mm image area on the 4×5 inch image plane. Very cool, I’ll write that up maybe next time 🙂

OK the subject today is the often maligned Leitz Summitar 50mm F/1.5. The lens was produced from about 1949 to 1960 when Leitz introduced the Summilux design still in use today. People often talk about how this lens is not sharp and if we are honest about it, it is not a particularly sharp lens especially by modern standards. But this lens has so much charm, character, and a gloriously delicious bokeh. It should not be overlooked. You can watch my video on this lens, here.

You can find these lenses at camera shows like the PhotoFair or on EBAY for around $400-$600. A comparable early Summilux is at least 3 times that amount and the modern Summilux Aspherical versions fetch well north of $2500. Those lenses are optically superior in nearly every measure except the intangible measure of intrinsic artistic value. It is here in the subjective that this lens becomes legendary.

The pre-aspherical Summilux lenses had what was often referred to as the “Leica Glow” which was caused by an optical aberration called ‘coma’ that caused out of focus highlights to seemingly “glow.” This in itself had some artistic value but like my Canon LTM 50/1.2 it can be a bit busy at times. This Leica Summarit has a smooth and creamy bokeh that is almost never distracting.

So is the lens as many claim, soft? Well yes a little, but for portraits wide open it is sharp enough. Stop it down to f/2 and it becomes sharp and at f/2.8 it is really sharp. So if I’m taking a landscape am I likely to shoot wide open? No probably not in fact probably more like f/4 or f5.6. This is a useful lens for most things a photographer would ask a 50mm lens to do on full frame.

First I have six bokeh shots showing an out of focus background with some highlights. Three lenses were used at two f/stops. The Leitz Summitar 50/1.5 at f1.5 and f/2.8; Canon LTM 50/1.2 at f/1.2 and f/2.8; Canon EF 50/1.2L at f/1.2 and f/2.8. Take a look:

So that is the basic bokeh look but that doesn’t tell the whole story. How is the lens to use in the real world? I love it actually. Here are some shots made recently on my EOS-R with the lens wide open.

Now here is a shot stopped down to f/2.8:

The background truly melts away, even at f/2.8! At 2.8 it is pretty darn sharp at the point of focus. At f/1.5 it is reasonably sharp as well. I love the way this lens renders the background. The lens is also very compact, a tad heavy for its size, but compact. Now full disclosure, I edited all of these in either Lightroom or Photoshop, that means I essentially enhanced to image to help the lens perform better. Below is a selfie shot of my ugly mug, you’ve been warned 😉 The image is hand held with the flippy screen out, 800 ISO 160th sec @ f/1.5 on my EOS R with a macro focusing M mount adapter. (This is an LTM lens with M adapter as well) It was taken right out of camera no edits other than a resize to 2000 pixels wide. You will see the contrast is pretty flat. The lens has a single lens coating that is 70 years old and the design was for a B/W film era so color and contrast are both pretty flat. Below the straight out of camera image is a screen shot of the same image with some minor camera raw adjustments, then finally a completed image with some additional localized enhancements around the eyes. You be the judge, is the lens any good?

Straight out of camera

Some Camera Raw tweaks in Photoshop

Final image after additional tweaks

So I think the lens is pretty awesome. I love the bokeh, love the overall look and it is easy to correct its shortcomings save for the softness wide open. Remember this is a small lens originally designed for small rangefinder cameras like the Leica IIIg. It only weighs 345 grams with my metal lens hood on it. It is small enough to close my hand completely around it. And it renders delightful images, that might need a little TLC in software, but that’s OK by me.

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